We all know how good amber is at preserving ancient life, but it appears that it’s just as good at capturing evidence of long-lost escapologists.
A 50-million-year-old insect feasting on a mushroom appears to have been ambushed by a drop of golden tree resin. Literally jumping out of its skin in fear, it left behind its exoskeleton in the shiny slime before scooting away from the scene. The mushroom, shedded skin, and a bonus rodent hair were left behind to be fossilized, and you can see all three in the amazing image above.
Writing in the journal of Fungal Biology, the sole author (George Poinar, Jr.) notes that this find also represents the first mushroom that’s ever been found in Baltic amber – hence the submission to this particular scientific publication – but it's inarguably the drama of the insect escape that’s the most fascinating component of this blob from the past.
“From what we can see in this fossil, a tiny mushroom was bitten off, probably by a rodent, at the base of a tree,” Poinar, an expert in fossilized life forms found in amber at the College of Science at Oregon State University, said in a statement. “An insect, similar to a walking stick, was probably also trying to feed on the mushroom. The tiny insect… was a phasmid, one of the kinds of insects that uses its shape to resemble sticks or leaves as a type of camouflage.”
Apart from being incredibly cool, this type of find really helps paleontologists construct images of how ancient ecosystems used to operate. This amber shows that 50 million years ago the area surrounding the Baltic Sea – modern-day Poland, Russia, Germany, and Scandinavia – was a massive subtropical coniferous forest, one that extended across much of Northern Europe for 10 million years.
The climate back then was far warmer, and flowering plants were starting to replace the cone-bearing evergreens that had held a grip on the region for some time. The non-avian dinosaurs had died out 16 million years earlier, and early birds, mammals, and crocodilians were beginning to take over the world. Like everything living at the time the amber formed, the insect and mushroom within the droplet are now extinct.
Amber, appreciated for its natural beauty for at least the last 12,000 years, has preservation abilities that are perhaps second to none, and from malicious-looking wasps to innocuous snails, a plethora of ancient life has found itself imprisoned within its glorious, gloopy walls. This close call is the latest, and it’s easily one of the best.